Inicio > Actividades para Tercer Ciclo, English Files, Inglés > EUROPEAN GEOGRAPHY: PHYSICAL RELIEF


Europe  is, by convention, one of the world’s seven continents. Comprising the westernmost peninsula of Eurasia, Europe is generally divided from Asia to its east by the water divide of the Ural Mountains, the Ural River, the Caspian Sea, the Caucasus Mountains (or the Kuma-Manych Depression), and the Black Sea to the southeast. Europe is bordered by the Arctic Ocean and other bodies of water to the north, the Atlantic Ocean to the west, the Mediterranean Sea to the south, and the Black Sea and connected waterways to the southeast. Yet the borders for Europe—a concept dating back to classical antiquity—are somewhat arbitrary, as the term continent can refer to a cultural and political distinction or a physiographic one.

Europe is the world’s second-smallest continent by surface area, covering about 10,180,000 square kilometres (3,930,000 sq mi) or 2% of the Earth’s surface and about 6.8% of its land area. Of Europe’s approximately 50 states, Russia is the largest by both area and population, while Vatican City is the smallest. Europe is the third-most populous continent after Asia and Africa, with a population of 731 million or about 11% of the world’s population. However, according to the United Nations (medium estimate), Europe’s share may fall to about 7% by 2050. In 1900, Europe’s share of the world’s population was 25%.


The coast of Europe is heavily indented with bays and gulfs.

The idea of a European “continent” is not universally held. Some geographical texts refer to a Eurasian Continent, or to a European subcontinent, given that Europe is not surrounded by sea and is, in any case, much more a cultural than a geographically definable area.

In terms of shape, Europe is a collection of connected peninsulas. The two largest of these are “mainland” Europe and Scandinavia to the north, divided from each other by the Baltic Sea. Three smaller peninsulas—Iberia, Italy and the Balkans—emerge from the southern margin of the mainland into the Mediterranean Sea, which separates Europe from Africa. Eastward, mainland Europe widens much like the mouth of a funnel, until the boundary with Asia is reached at the Ural Mountains.

Land relief in Europe shows great variation within relatively small areas. The southern regions are mountainous, while moving north the terrain descends from the high Alps, Pyrenees and Carpathians, through hilly uplands, into broad, low northern plains, which are vast in the east. An arc of uplands also exists along the northwestern seaboard, beginning in the western British Isles and continuing along the mountainous, fjord-cut spine of Norway.

This description is simplified. Sub-regions such as Iberia and Italy contain their own complex features, as does mainland Europe itself, where the relief contains many plateaus, river valleys and basins that complicate the general trend. Iceland and the British Isles are special cases. The former is a land unto itself in the northern ocean which is counted as part of Europe, while the latter are upland areas that were once joined to the mainland until rising sea levels cut them off.

The few generalizations that can be made about the relief of Europe make it less than surprising that the continent’s many separate regions provided homes for many separate nations throughout history.

Mountain ranges

Some of Europe’s major mountain ranges are:

  • Ural Mountains, used to separate Europe and Asia
  • Caucasus Mountains, which also separate Europe and Asia, and is the namesake of the Caucasian race, not to be confused with Caucasian peoples
  • Carpathian Mountains, a major mountain range in Central and Southern Europe
  • Alps, the famous mountains known for their spectacular slopes
  • Apennines, which run through Italy
  • Pyrenees, the natural border between France and Spain
  • Cantabrian Mountains, which run across northern Spain
  • Scandinavian Mountains, a mountain range which runs through the Scandinavian Peninsula, includes the Kjølen mountains
  • Dinaric Alps, a mountain range in the Balkans
  • Balkan mountains, a mountain range in central Balkans
  • Scottish highlands ( cairngorms, a ‘low level’ mountain range, in northern and central Scotland.
  • Pennines, very low level mountain range, subject to extreme glacial sculpting, in earlier ice ages, found in northern England.


The following are the longest rivers in Europe alongside their approximate lengths:

  1. Volga –   3,690 km (2,293 mi)
  2. Danube – 2,860 km (1,777 mi)
  3. Ural   –    2,428 km (1,509 mi)
  4. Dnieper – 2,290 km (1,423 mi)
  5. Don   –     1,950 km (1,212 mi)
  6. Pechora – 1,809 km (1,124 mi)
  7. Kama –  1,805 km (1,122 mi)
  8. Oka   –   1,500 km (932 mi)
  9. Belaya – 1,430 km (889 mi)
10. Tisza   –   1,358 km (844 mi)
11. Dniester – 1,352 km (840 mi)
12. Rhine   –   1,236 km (768 mi)
13. Elbe   –   1,091 km (678 mi)
14. Vistula – 1,047 km (651 mi)
15. Tagus   – 1,038 km (645 mi)
16. Daugava – 1,020 km (634 mi)
17. Loire – 1,012 km (629 mi)
18. Ebro – 960 km (597 mi)
19. Nemunas – 937 km (582 mi)
20. Sava – 933 km (580 mi)
21. Oder – 854 km (531 mi)
22. Rhône – 815 km (506 mi)
23. Seine  – 776 km (482 mi)
24. Po – 682 km (424 mi)
25. Glomma – 604 km (375 mi)
26. Maritsa – 480 km (298 mi)
27. Vardar – 388 km (241 mi)
28. Shannon – 386 km (240 mi)

Lakes and inland seas

  • Lake Constance (Austria, Germany, Switzerland; Bodensee)
  • Dojran Lake (Republic of Macedonia and Greece)
  • Lake Geneva (France, Switzerland; Lac Léman or Lac de Genève)
  • Lake Lugano (Switzerland, Italy)
  • Lake Maggiore (Switzerland, Italy; Lago Maggiore)
  • Lake Neusiedl (Neusiedler See)/Fertő (Austria, Hungary)
  • Lake Ohrid (Albania, Republic of Macedonia)
  • Lake Peipsi-Pihkva (Estonia, Russia)
  • Lake Great Prespa (Albania, Republic of Macedonia, Greece)
  • Lake Small Prespa (Albania, Greece)
  • Lake Skadar (Montenegro, Albania)
  • Lake Vištytis (Lithuania, Russia)
  • Lago di Lei (an artificial lake created by a dam; the waters are mostly in Italy but the dam is in Switzerland).

Major islands

Iceland, Faroe Islands, Great Britain, Ireland, the rest of the British Isles, Balearic Islands, Corsica, Sardinia, Sicily, Malta, Ionian Islands, Crete, Aegean Islands, Åland Islands, Gotland, Saaremaa, Svalbard, Hinnøya, Senja, Zealand, Fyn and North Jutlandic Island.

Plains and lowlands

  • East European Plain, the largest landscape feature of Europe
  • Northern European Lowlands
  • Pannonian plain
  • Meseta Central is a high plain (plateau) in central Spain (occupies roughly 40% of the country)
  • Po Valley, also known as Padan Plain, between Alps and Apennines

Temperature and precipitation

The high mountainous areas of Europe are colder and have higher precipitation than lower areas, as is true of mountainous areas in general. Europe has less precipitation in the east than in central and Western Europe. The temperature difference between summer and winter gradually increases from coastal northwest Europe to southeast inland Europe, ranging from Ireland, with a temperature difference of only 10 °C from the warmest to the coldest month, to the area north of the Caspian Sea, with a temperature difference of 40 °C. January average range from 13°C in Southern Greece to -20°C in northeastern part of European Russia.

Western Europe and parts of Central Europe generally fall into the temperate maritime climate, the southern part is mostly a Mediterranean climate, the north-central part and east into central Russia is mostly a humid continental climate  and the northern part of the continent is a subarctic climate. In the extreme northern part (northernmost Russia; Svalbard), bordering the Arctic Ocean, is tundra climate. Mountain ranges, such as the Alps and the Carpathian mountains, have a highland climate with large variations according to altitude and latitude.

-Enjoy the following exercises about the physical relief of Europe!

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